LG and partners have made a huge push in recent years to make IPS (In-Plane Switching) monitors more affordable. With their lower cost ‘E-IPS’ (‘Enhanced IPS’) panels they are able to bring the much-loved IPS quality to a much broader market and this is something that many consumers found enticing. There is also a big drive at the moment to increase the energy efficiency of consumer electronics such as computer monitors. This is an area where traditional IPS displays suffered with their immensely power-hungry Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL) backlights.
The U2412M is Dell’s latest offering in their ‘UltraSharp’ series and it makes good use of these innovations in panel technology and backlighting as an E-IPS monitor with White Light Emitting Diode (W-LED) backlight. Whilst Dell have retained the 1920 x 1200 resolution of the U2410, the use of W-LED backlighting restricts the colour gamut to roughly sRGB rather than the 102% NTSC colour space of its wide-gamut predecessor. On the plus side this colour space is much more widely supported and the end product is thinner, lighter, cheaper and more efficient.
Although marketed towards the colour-conscious business user there is plenty for home users to like – at least on paper. This review will focus primarily on the Dell U2412M’s performance on a range of entertainment applications including games and movies but a lot of this testing will be applicable to work as well as play.
Notable aspects of the U2412M’s specifications include the 1920 x 1200 resolution, IPS panel and relatively low power consumption LED backlight (typically 46W lower than the U2410). It is also a fair bit lighter; 6.24kg with stand and cables compared to the U2410’s 9.57kg weight in similar configuration. Like its predecessor it features grey to grey acceleration but a slightly lower 8ms (vs. 6ms for the U2410) is quoted – a figure that is generally fairly misleading anyway.
Unlike the U2410 the U2412M makes use of 6-bits per subpixel colour with Frame Rate Control (FRC) dithering to make up to 8-bits per subpixel. The U2410, on the other hand, natively supports 8-bits per subpixel colour with processing of up to 12-bits per subpixel. The U2410 also has a much broader colour gamut than the U2412M (not listed below but around 110% vs. 82% CIE1976). Given the current support and dithering technology this shouldn’t be a major drawback for the majority of users.
We have kindly highlighted the positive standout features of the monitor in blue for your reading convenience.
From the front it is clear that the U2412M has retained the ‘business’ look of its predecessor. It still looks quite rugged but has been rounded slightly at the corners to make it look a little distinctive. Our review model’s bezel is silver matte plastic but the usual black bezel is also offered as a more common alternative. The bezel is quite thin at around 18mm thick all around, according to our measurements. Also from the front you will notice that the matte screen surface – which, like its predecessors, is quite strong and designed to reduce glare as much as possible in office environments where lighting can’t be tightly controlled. This also affects the light transmittance of the monitor itself, as explored in subsequent sections of the review.
Note that due to high exposure the picture has a lot of noise that is not part of the screen surface texture.
The OSD navigation buttons are non-illuminated whilst the power button is illuminated with a subtle dark blue. All buttons are tactile-touch and therefore differ from the proximity and touch-sensitive illuminated controls of the U2410. To some this will be a welcome change, but others will have found the touch sensitive controls of the U2410 responsive and the illumination convenient in the dark. This more conventional arrangement helps cut costs and the buttons protrude out slightly from the bezel so you can ‘feel’ your way around if you have to.
From the side the U2412M is noticeably thinner than its predecessor but lacks the card reader and pull-out service tab. There are two side-facing USB ports and a nice robust stand a little further back.
The monitors stand affords a little over 4 inches of height adjustment, around 30° backwards tilt and very slight forward tilt whilst allowing the user to swivel the screen 45° either side. The monitor can also be rotated into portrait mode.
The rear of the monitor is matte black plastic with ventilation slats and a silver Dell ‘button’ logo at the top. The rear of the stand’s neck is silver, running down onto a black base. The stand is well-built and adjustments are smooth. The base itself has 6 small rubber pads on its underside to stop the monitor sliding about on the desk – a very solid package overall. Nonetheless, the U2412M can be VESA mounted for extra flexibility by removing the stand.
Dell has been reasonably conservative with the inputs but all the PC essentials are there – AC in (power), DC out (for Dell Soundbar), DisplayPort, DVI-D, VGA and 2 USB ports (2 down, 1 up – added to the 2 USB downstream ports on the side). HDMI was left out on this one due to cost and market positioning.
The monitors OSD is simple, well laid out and fairly feature-rich. The top two menu buttons are customisable preset buttons for fast access to frequently used settings – ‘Preset Modes’ and ‘Brightness/Contrast’ by default. The third button down is the menu access button and the bottom button (above power) is the exit button.
Once on the menu you are presented with several picture adjustment options including contrast, brightness, colour channels and sharpness. Some of these options can be seen in the video below, as can the new ‘energy use’ indicator at the top right. This small green bar closely mimics the current brightness setting of the monitor and little else so may seem a bit gimmicky at first. Nonetheless it draws your attention to the issue of power consumption and allows a quick comparison of the ‘energy efficiency’ of the various preset modes. Note that some of these modes (namely ‘Game’ and ‘Movie’) enable dynamic contrast be default and so the energy use will fluctuate.
Straight from the box the image looked a tad greenish but nicely balanced with good rich colours. Although the colours were rich and varied they were not quite as vibrant as some people would like – but this is all part of the balancing act. As mentioned in the previous section the screen surface has a matte outer polarising layer which is coarsened to a similar degree to the U2410. This is something that creates a noticeably dirty ‘grain like’ appearance to the image that is particularly noticeable on whites and light colours. It actually affects all light emitted by the monitor – diffusing it rather than allowing a more direct emission. The end result is one of reduced vibrancy and clarity, but this is necessary to some extent in the work environments that the U2412M is primarily designed for. Unfortunately this is something that no amount of calibration can address, but was worth noting here as it struck our keen eyes immediately and is something some people find obtrusive.
With that fact observed and noted it was time to work on fine-tuning aspects of the monitor image that can be calibrated, such as contrast, brightness and colour balance. As it happens our observations of the well-balanced image were not unjustified. The default contrast value of ‘75’ appeared to be optimal as higher values would cause excessive bleaching of whites and lower values simply dull the image. The default brightness of ‘75’ was overly bright even in a well-lit room. Reducing this to ‘50’ proved more comfortable but this will vary depending on individual taste and lighting conditions.
The slight green of the monitor could be explained by its relative strength on the green channel compared to red and blue. A fairly significant reduction in the green channel was required (default values were 100 for R, G and B) to achieve a desirable daylight white point of around 6500k. The colour channels were set as follows –
- Red: 100%
- Green: 93%
- Blue: 100%
Such an adjustment is not ideal as it affects the contrast of the image – a lower luminance is outputted for a given black level. Do bear in mind that each individual U2412M unit will be slightly different and you shouldn’t necessarily expect optimal results by copying our settings verbatim. We explore the contrast and brightness of the image and the effect of the aforementioned changes in the following section.
And to end on a positive note; the gamma of our review sample was spot on at the desired 2.2 with gamma set to the default ‘PC’ mode. An alternative ‘Mac’ mode (an old Macintosh naming convention not used by modern Macs) is spot on at 1.8 for those who wish to use this lower gamma point instead.
Dell claims the usual 1000:1 static contrast ratio, a nice bright 300 cd/m2 and rather outlandish (but in keeping with current conventions) 2m:1 dynamic contrast ratio. We tested the Dell U2412M using the settings discussed in the calibration section of the review and compared the central point black luminance, white luminance and the resulting contrast ratio using a highly accurate luminance meter. Unless otherwise stated assume a contrast level of 100% and default RGB values (100, 100, 100) for the purposes of this table. Custom modes may vary these settings but were tested using their default values – with the exception of ‘Dynamic Contrast’ being disabled unless stated otherwise. The peak value for white luminance, lowest black luminance and highest overall contrast ratio in static modes have been highlighted for your reading convenience.
|Monitor Profile||White luminance (cd/m2)||Black luminance (cd/m2)||Contrast ratio (x:1)|
|‘Custom’, 100% brightness||352||0.44||800|
|‘Custom’, 80% brightness||283||0.35||809|
|‘Custom’, 60% brightness||220||0.27||815|
|‘Custom’, 40% brightness||163||0.21||776|
|‘Custom’, 20% brightness||105||0.13||803|
|‘Custom’, 0% brightness||47||0.06||783|
|Test settings, 50% brightness, 75% contrast (RGB adjusted)||178||0.26||685|
|Dynamic Contrast (‘Gaming’ mode)||352||<0.01||>35,200|
A peak static contrast ratio of 815:1 was measured on the U2412M at a brightness of ‘60’. This is actually very respectable for an IPS-panel monitor and similar to the NEC EA232WMI tested previously. Unfortunately this dropped down to 685:1 under our colour-adjusted test settings, but this was to be expected and by no means a poor contrast ratio to record. The worst contrast ratio of any setting tested was actually recorded using movie mode; a lowly 531:1 due to black level issues.
The lowest white luminance of 47 cd/m2 was recorded at a brightness of ‘0’, whereas maximum brightness (100) yielded a whopping 352 cd/m2 – easily exceeding the specified 300 cd/m2. This gives the Dell U2412M an outstanding luminance range of 305 cd/m2. Another point of interest is that ‘Dynamic Contrast’ can be enabled under ‘game’ and ‘movie mode’ should you wish to make use of this feature. We recorded a contrast ratio of >35,200:1 under this mode – which was limited by the sensitivity of our light meter with 0.01 cd/m2 being the lowest value it would record. This may seem an impressively high figure but this was achieved in a highly artificial scenario involving an entirely white scene and an entirely black scene. Under normal viewing the luminance would be some way between these values and the entire backlight brightness will be altered to compensate for the overall scene – in other words, it’s a compromise. The U2412M’s backlight responded very rapidly to extreme changes from black to white (and vice-versa) which could make for changes that are a little too pronounced in games and movies.
Another point to note is that our review unit exhibited no noticeable excess backlight bleed-through but did suffer from ‘IPS Glow’. To the right of the screen there was a slight silver sheen and to the left of the screen a silvery blue hue could be seen. This ‘sheen’ becomes more noticeable if you view the monitor from a decentralised position (hence it often being referred to as ‘off-angle glow’) and if you move back so that you are several meters from the screen this sheen disappears. This distinguishes it from conventional backlight ‘leakage’ although the effect on the image is similar but often less severe. It should be noted that although levels of IPS glow should be similar on all units, the excess backlight bleed-through can vary due to stresses during manufacture and transportation.
It isn’t just black scenes that are affected by backlighting variation – another thing to consider is the uniformity of ‘pure white’ across the screen. Pure white is used because it tends to bring out any variation in luminance that may exist across the screen – variation detected here will also affect a ‘mixed’ image. Absolute luminance values are given (cd/m2) in the table below, alongside the percentage difference in luminance from the centre. Readings were taken using a Spyder3Elite colorimeter at 9 equidistance ‘pure white’ quadrants, running from the top left to the bottom right of the screen.
The maximum deviation from the central (‘quadrant 5’) luminance of 177 cd/m2 was measured towards the top left corner of the screen (‘quadrant 3’). The luminance here was 144.9 cd/m2 which is significantly dimmer than the centre (a 15% deviation). Quadrant 3 at the top right of the screen showed a similar 15% deviation but elsewhere deviation was 10% (‘quadrant 6’) or lower. The bottom of the screen was particularly uniform; 1%, 0% and 1% deviation from centre for quadrant 7, quadrant 8 and quadrant 9, respectively. This deviation can be seen in the face-like contour map below which combines actual recorded values with a bit of artistic license (extrapolation of values).
In our subjective testing the contrast and brightness performance of the U2412M was generally quite pleasing with a few minor niggles. Our first test title was Battlefield: Bad Company 2 which is a popular fast-paced first person shooter with some good potential for testing contrast. Glare from the sun and snow on the ground, for example, produced some nice bright-looking whites. They weren’t overpowering but did contrast well with the surroundings without any noticeable bleaching. Although detail was not lost through bleaching the grainy texture from the relatively high haze value of the screen surface was once again evident. Blacks and other low-end colours on the game were also quite good with dark areas generally appearing to have an appropriate level of detail. There was some slight loss of detail in places – the player’s gloves whilst out of bright sunlight and the self-cast shadows on vehicles, for example.
Our second test title again offered some very good potential for testing the contrast and brightness performance of the U2412M; Dirt 3. Glare from the sun was once again nice and bright during the day and during the night artificial light shone through and contrasted nicely with their dark surroundings. The haze from the screen surface was once again noticeable and did limit the luminescent look of these artificial lights but the overall experience was still enjoyable and quite ‘lively’.
We also ran some quick testing of the monitor’s contrast performance based on the Lagom LCD tests. These tests are designed to point out any weaknesses in a monitor’s performance. These weaknesses may not always be immediately apparent during normal testing but they can still impact the image quality.
- Performance on the contrast gradients was very good. There was slight blending of the first two (low-end) blue blocks but distinct brightness steps were observed elsewhere.
- Performance on the black level test was pretty good as well. The first block was difficult to distinguish from the background but the other blocks were visible. There was no noticeable dithering at all and the grey shades appeared very solid.
- White saturation performance was again quite good. The final block blended into the background and became lost in the haze of the screen surface, but all other blocks were visible. This was also independent of their position on the screen which is often a weakness of TN panel monitors but not IPS panel monitors such as this one.
- The greyscale gradient was exceptionally smooth. There was some minor dithering on the darker greys but this was well-masked by the matte screen surface. There was no visible banding anywhere on the gradient.
The U2412M’s colour gamut (red triangle) was compared to sRGB reference (green triangle) under our test settings using the reporting functionality of a Spyder3Elite colorimeter.
The U2412M conforms quite closely to the sRGB reference as you would expect from the WLED backlight and screen surface. Coverage of blues and purples seems a little narrower than the sRGB reference but this is really just to show the range of potential shades and is only a small part of the overall colour reproduction equation. We tested out the ‘whole equation’ by testing out our test game and Blu-ray movie titles. Although colours lacked the glorious vibrant lustre and ‘clarity’ of a good glossy display they were nonetheless rich and varied.
Our first test title, Bad Company 2, showed a good range of rich greens with some nice pale greens and woody browns to create a good natural look. This was complimented by subtle light blue variations in the sky – but this looked hazy even on a bright sunny day on the game due to the palpable matte surface. The occasional dash of vibrancy from rich golden-orange fires and the sun’s warming glow was also welcome here.
Our second game title, Dirt 3, also showcased a good variety of natural greens and golden browns – with the deep greens of Finland being particularly luscious. The ‘glow’ of the red earth in the Kenyan sunset was also displayed nicely, but it seemed a touch too brown and was lacking in red hue. Car paintjobs also showed a respectable variety of shades but these were not as dashing as they good have been.
In many ways this carried over to the overall aesthetic of our first movie, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder. The neon shades and other bright colours lacked certain vivacity but the pastel shades and overall variety of colours was very pleasing indeed. This film is also a good test for colour consistency. Large areas of a given shade are displayed for a character’s skin colour, for example, with subtle variations around that shade for the skin of other characters. The Dell U2412M handled this admirably by showing a distinct but varied palette for the characters’ skin, clothes and indeed other colours. The second film title we tested (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray) also benefited from this consistency and the overall natural look of the image. Skin tones, eyes and different environments in the film all had their own ‘identity’ and a natural aesthetic that is quite appealing to such a film. Flames and explosions were not as vibrant as they could have been but still stood out nicely and complimented the atmosphere nicely.
In our ‘real world’ testing the benefits of the U2412M’s subtle shade repertoire and colour consistency was already quite apparent. This attribute of image quality can be scrutinised even more closely by using the Lagom viewing angle tests for viewing angles. These help to illustrate even fairly minor variations in colour, gamma and brightness that can affect how an image on a monitor is displayed. We observed a pretty much flawless performance here when it came to consistency:
- The purple block appeared a lilac-purple throughout. There were slight patches of pink here and there but no discrete transition between purple and pink.
- The red block appeared a light red throughout with no transition to pink.
- A nice rich green was displayed without a transition to yellow.
- Blue was solid as usual with no noticeable variation in colour or brightness.
- The Lagom text appeared a well-blended grey throughout showing that the gamma curve of the U2412M is not heavily influenced by viewing angle.
Response times are traditionally seen as the downfall of an IPS monitor. The 8ms grey to grey response time specified by Dell for the U2412M may offer little solace but in practice this figure means very little. Modern IPS panel monitors with well-tuned RTC (response time compensation) can offer a nice gaming experience. To help illustrate the pixel response of the U2412M during fast motion we used a tool called PixPerAn (Pixel Performance Analyser) and a camera at high shutter speed to capture the results. The ‘tempo’ of PixPerAn was set as high as it would go – so the image below represents the ‘worst case’ as far as this particular test is concerned.
The image above shows a secondary trail behind the car as well as a negative RTC impulse artifact in the form of an inverted tertiary ‘overdrive trail’. In reality the trailing is generally a lot less palpable than the artificial constraints of this fast-moving snapshot test would suggest. On Bad Company 2, for example, textures retained a surprisingly good level of sharpness when dashing around on foot – whilst obviously no match for a 120Hz TN panel the visual experience at these ‘medium speeds’ was very good. The trailing here manifests itself as a sort of gentle vibration rather than extended or exaggerated momentary ghosting. However; dashing around at speed in vehicles was a bit of a dizzying experience. Trailing became more exaggerated and the image appeared to break up in places due partly to the RTC impulse artifacts. It is worth noting that such high-speed transitions are not something any 60Hz LCD monitor will take in its stride regardless of panel technology.
On Dirt 3 we rarely come across too many issues with troublesome and distracting trailing and the U2412M proved no exception. Whilst trailing was certainly there in the background if you’re looking for it (especially when turning a corner) it was never really distracting regardless of lighting conditions or vehicle speed. Trailing wasn’t a problem in either of our movie titles, either, although some juddering was evident. This juddering is down to the low frame rate at which the film is shot and is not something that can be rectified by speedy pixel transitions.
Because the common test for input lag is wildly inaccurate and can leave people infatuated by misleading figures that are misleading at best we chose not to include such values. A subjective opinion on how responsive a monitor ‘feels’ echoes the total latency felt as the result of a number of factors beyond pure ‘input lag’ from the monitor – including pixel transitions and the delay between frames. Nonetheless input lag is something that will concern many people so we are pleased to say that the felt input lag of the U2412M was ‘very low’ and shouldn’t pose any problems.
IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology is something that was once reserved for high-end professional monitors. Now IPS monitors have entered the mainstream market at much more affordable prices and are taking on attributes which most consumers find quite attractive – LED backlighting with good energy efficiency and lower heat output, for example. Dell has embraced these trends with the U2412M without losing sight of their original target audience in the process. The U2412M may be far more affordable than its predecessor (the U2410) but it shares the same level of stand adjustability and, importantly, the 1920 x 1200 resolution and 16:10 aspect ratio. Dell has cut back on the colour gamut (it’s roughly sRGB this time around) but to many this will be welcome as it is the current standard for digital content creation and entertainment. Some people may also be concerned by the ‘6 bits per subpixel plus 2 bits FRC dithering’ colour support compared to the native 8-bit (12-bit processing) of the U2410. From what we have tested this isn’t something that is really worthy of concern. The U2412M was able to output an excellent array of colours without visible dithering or banding.
This monitor also continues the ‘tradition’ of the strong no-nonsense anti-glare surface that has been featured on all modern Dell UltraSharp monitors. Although glare itself was never a problem during our testing the grainy appearance to the image and ebbing away of extra potential colour vibrancy was not ideal from an entertainment perspective. But then, that was never really the primary focus of this product – it just happens to be pretty good at it. Aside from the colour experience, which was rich and varied, the U2412M also proved to be quite a responsive bit of kit. Trailing was always tolerable and during ‘medium speed’ scenarios this monitor put in one of the best performances we’ve seen from a 60Hz LCD monitor. Coupled with very low input lag and this is a monitor of many talents.
So just when people were starting to think that the 16:10 aspect ratio and 1920 x 1200 resolution was banished to the realm of the unaffordable high-end monitors Dell come along with this. At just under £300 ($400) at time of writing the Dell U2412M is easily one of the best all-round monitors released in recent times. It may not be perfect (and we have already made sure Dell are aware of the criticisms raised regarding the anti-glare surface) but it’s certainly a very attractive package.
|1920 x 1200 resolution provides a bit of extra space for work and play||Some people prefer 16:9 for entertainment purposes (no debating here, please)|
|Solidly built with excellent level of stand adjustability and a responsive and feature-rich OSD||Some people may miss the illuminated proximity and touch sensitive buttons of its predecessor (others will not)|
|Good viewing angles and excellent colour reproduction with rich and varied colours||Potential colour vibrancy limited by native colour gamut and ‘heavy’ anti-glare screen surface|
|Efficient LED backlight consumes relatively little power and produces little heat whilst pumping out excellent brightness||Whites and light colours in particular are affected by a ‘grainy’ appearance from the screen surface|
|Low input lag and very good responsiveness at ‘medium speeds’||Some evident trailing at ‘high speeds’ and RTC (Response Time Compensation) artifacts may bother some people|
|Attractive price tag||‘IPS glow’ and elevated black levels causes slight loss of detail in some instances|